FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Pursuant to Section 2(b) of the Antitrust Procedures and Penalties Act, 15 U.S.C. § 16(b)-(h) ("APPA" or "Tunney Act"), the United States moves for entry of the proposed Final Judgment (attached as Exhibit A) filed in this civil antitrust case. Defendants Vulcan Materials Company ("Vulcan") and Florida Rock Industries, Inc. ("Florida Rock") have stipulated to the entry of the proposed Final Judgment upon compliance with the APPA and do not object to entry of this proposed Final Judgment without a hearing. The Competitive Impact Statement ("CIS"), filed by the United States on November 13, 2007, explains why entry of the proposed Final Judgment is in the public interest. The United States is filing with this motion a Certificate of Compliance (attached as Exhibit B) setting forth the steps taken by the parties to comply with all applicable provisions of the APPA and certifying that the statutory waiting periods have expired. Thus, the proposed Final Judgment may be entered at this time without further hearing if the Court determines that entry is in the public interest. Entry of the proposed Final Judgment would terminate this action, except that the Court would retain jurisdiction to construe, modify, or enforce the provisions of the proposed Final Judgment and to punish violations thereof.
On February 19, 2007, Vulcan and Florida Rock entered into an agreement for Vulcan to acquire Florida Rock in a cash-and-stock transaction. For the next nine months, the United States Department of Justice ("Department") conducted an extensive, detailed investigation into the competitive effects of the Vulcan/Florida Rock transaction. As part of this investigation, the Department obtained substantial documents and information from the merging parties and issued six Civil Investigative Demands to third parties. The Department received and considered more than 130 boxes of hard copy material and over 280,000 electronic files. More than 130 interviews were conducted with customers, competitors, and other individuals with knowledge of the industry. The investigative staff carefully analyzed the information provided and thoroughly considered all of the issues presented. The Department considered the potential competitive effects of the transaction on coarse aggregate sold in a number of different geographic areas, obtaining information about this product and these areas from customers, competitors, and other knowledgeable parties. The Department concluded that the combination of Vulcan and Florida Rock likely would lessen competition in the production, distribution, and sale of coarse aggregate in eight different geographic markets.
Coarse aggregate is crushed stone produced at quarries and used for such things as road base and the production of ready mix concrete and asphalt. There are no reliable substitutes for coarse aggregate, and to the extent that any substitutes exist they are already being used by customers to the fullest extent possible, and their use cannot be increased in response to an increase in the price of coarse aggregate. A small but significant increase in price would not likely cause coarse aggregate consumers to switch products or otherwise reduce their usage of coarse aggregate so as to make the price increase unprofitable.
The eight separate geographic markets in which Vulcan's acquisition of Florida Rock would lessen competition substantially are: Northwest Atlanta, West Atlanta, Southwest Atlanta, South Atlanta, Southeast Atlanta, and Columbus, Georgia; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and South Hampton Roads, Virginia. In each market, certain Vulcan and Florida Rock quarries competed with each other, and usually also with one or two other companies, to serve customers in that market, and customers with plants or jobs within that market were not able to turn to other suppliers because their quarries were too far away and their hauling costs were too great.
As explained more fully in the Complaint and CIS, the acquisition of Florida Rock by Vulcan would have substantially increased concentration and lessened competition in the production, distribution, and sale of coarse aggregate in each of the eight affected geographic markets. In the affected markets, the acquisition would have reduced the number of suppliers from four to three, from three to two, or from two to one; would have eliminated competition between Vulcan and Florida Rock; and would have increased the likelihood that Vulcan would unilaterally increase the price of coarse aggregate to a significant number of customers. In certain markets, the acquisition also would have facilitated coordination among the remaining coarse aggregate suppliers. In every affected market, it was likely that the acquisition would lead to higher prices. Therefore, the Department filed its Complaint alleging competitive harm in the coarse aggregate product market in each of the eight affected geographic markets, and sought a remedy that would ensure that such harm is prevented.
On November 13, 2007, the United States filed its Complaint in this matter alleging that the proposed acquisition of Florida Rock by Vulcan would violate Section 7 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. § 18. Simultaneously with the filing of the Complaint, the United States filed a proposed Final Judgment and a Hold Separate Stipulation and Order signed by plaintiff and defendants, consenting to the entry of the proposed Final Judgment after compliance with the requirements of the Tunney Act. Pursuant to those requirements, the United States also filed its CIS.
The proposed Final Judgment in this case is designed to preserve competition in the production, distribution, and sale of coarse aggregate in each of the eight affected geographic markets. The proposed Final Judgment requires the divestiture of sufficient assets to prevent the increase in concentration that resulted from the combination of Vulcan and Florida Rock in each affected market. For each of the eight affected geographic markets, the proposed Final Judgment requires the divestiture of a quarry serving that market, and in the case of South Hampton Roads also requires the divestiture of one distribution yard.
II. COMPLIANCE WITH THE APPA
The APPA requires a sixty-day period for the submission of public comments on a proposed Final Judgment. See 15 U.S.C. § 16(b). In compliance with the APPA, the United States filed the CIS on November 13, 2007; published the proposed Final Judgment and CIS in the Federal Register on December 4, 2007 (see United States v. Vulcan Materials Co. and Florida Rock Indus., Inc., 72 Fed. Reg. 68189); and published summaries of the terms of the proposed Final Judgment and CIS, together with directions for the submission of written comments relating to the proposed Final Judgment, in The Washington Post for seven days beginning on December 16, 2007 and ending on December 22, 2007.
The sixty-day period for public comments ended on February 20, 2008. The Division received only one comment; the Response to that comment was filed with the Court on March 19, 2008 and published in the Federal Register on April 4, 2008. As recited in the Certificate of Compliance, all the requirements of the APPA now have been satisfied. It is therefore appropriate for the Court to make the public interest determination required by 15 U.S.C. § 16(e) and to enter the Final Judgment.
III. STANDARD FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW UNDER THE APPA
The Clayton Act, as amended by the APPA, requires that proposed consent judgments in antitrust cases brought by the United States be subject to a sixty-day comment period, after which the Court shall determine whether entry of the proposed Final Judgment "is in the public interest." 15 U.S.C. § 16(e)(1). In making that determination, the court, in accordance with the statute as amended in 2004,(1) is required to consider:
(A) the competitive impact of such judgment, including termination of alleged violations, provisions for enforcement and modification, duration of relief sought, anticipated effects of alternative remedies actually considered, whether its terms are ambiguous, and any other competitive considerations bearing upon the adequacy of such judgment that the court deems necessary to a determination of whether the consent judgment is in the public interest; and
15 U.S.C. § 16(e)(1)(A)-(B). In considering these statutory factors, the court's inquiry is necessarily a limited one as the government is entitled to "broad discretion to settle with the defendant within the reaches of the public interest." United States v. Microsoft Corp., 56 F.3d 1448, 1461 (D.C. Cir. 1995); see generally United States v. SBC Commc'ns, Inc., 489 F. Supp. 2d 1 (D.D.C. 2007) (assessing public interest standard under the Tunney Act).
As the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has held, under the APPA a court considers, among other things, the relationship between the remedy secured and the specific allegations set forth in the government's complaint, whether the decree is sufficiently clear, whether enforcement mechanisms are sufficient, and whether the decree may positively harm third parties. See Microsoft, 56 F.3d at 1458-62. With respect to the adequacy of the relief secured by the decree, a court may not "engage in an unrestricted evaluation of what relief would best serve the public." United States v. BNS, Inc., 858 F.2d 456, 462 (9th Cir. 1988) (citing United States v. Bechtel Corp., 648 F.2d 660, 666 (9th Cir. 1981)); see also Microsoft, 56 F.3d at 1460-62. Courts have held that:
[t]he balancing of competing social and political interests affected by a proposed antitrust consent decree must be left, in the first instance, to the discretion of the Attorney General. The court's role in protecting the public interest is one of insuring that the government has not breached its duty to the public in consenting to the decree. The court is required to determine not whether a particular decree is the one that will best serve society, but whether the settlement is "within the reaches of the public interest." More elaborate requirements might undermine the effectiveness of antitrust enforcement by consent decree.
Bechtel, 648 F.2d at 666 (emphasis added) (citations omitted).(2) In making its public interest determination, a district court "must accord deference to the government's predictions about the efficacy of its remedies, and may not require that the remedies perfectly match the alleged violations because this may only reflect underlying weakness in the government's case or concessions made during negotiation." SBC Commc'ns, 489 F. Supp. 2d at 17; see also Microsoft, 56 F.3d at 1461 (noting need for courts to be "deferential to the government's predictions as to the effect of the proposed remedies"); United States v. Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., 272 F. Supp. 2d 1, 6 (D.D.C. 2003) (noting that the court should grant due respect to the United States' prediction as to the effect of proposed remedies, its perception of the market structure, and its views of the nature of the case).
Courts have greater flexibility in approving proposed consent decrees than in crafting their own decrees following a finding of liability in a litigated matter. "[A] proposed decree must be approved even if it falls short of the remedy the court would impose on its own, as long as it falls within the range of acceptability or is 'within the reaches of public interest.'" United States v. AT&T Co., 552 F. Supp. 131, 151 (D.D.C. 1982) (citations omitted) (quoting Gillette, 406 F. Supp. at 716); see also United States v. Alcan Aluminum Ltd., 605 F. Supp. 619, 622 (W.D. Ky. 1985) (approving the consent decree even though the court would have imposed a greater remedy). To meet this standard, the United States "need only provide a factual basis for concluding that the settlements are reasonably adequate remedies for the alleged harms." SBC Commc'ns, 489 F. Supp. 2d at 17.
Moreover, the Court's role under the APPA is limited to reviewing the remedy in relationship to the violations that the United States has alleged in its Complaint, and does not authorize the Court to "construct [its] own hypothetical case and then evaluate the decree against that case." Microsoft, 56 F.3d at 1459. Because the "court's authority to review the decree depends entirely on the government's exercising its prosecutorial discretion by bringing a case in the first place," it follows that "the court is only authorized to review the decree itself," and not to "effectively redraft the complaint" to inquire into other matters that the United States did not pursue. Id. at 1459-60. As this Court recently confirmed in SBC Communications, courts "cannot look beyond the complaint in making the public interest determination unless the complaint is drafted so narrowly as to make a mockery of judicial power." 489 F. Supp. 2d at 15. In its 2004 amendments, Congress made clear its intent to preserve the practical benefits of utilizing consent decrees in antitrust enforcement, adding the unambiguous instruction "[n]othing in this section shall be construed to require the court to conduct an evidentiary hearing or to require the court to permit anyone to intervene." 15 U.S.C. § 16(e)(2). This instruction explicitly writes into the statute the standard intended by the Congress that enacted the Tunney Act in 1974 , as Senator Tunney then explained: "[t]he court is nowhere compelled to go to trial or to engage in extended proceedings which might have the effect of vitiating the benefits of prompt and less costly settlement through the consent decree process." 119 Cong. Rec. 24,598 (1973) (statement of Senator Tunney). Rather, the procedure for the public interest determination is left to the discretion of the court, with the recognition that the court's "scope of review remains sharply proscribed by precedent and the nature of Tunney Act proceedings." SBC Commc'ns, 489 F. Supp. 2d at 11.(3)
For the reasons set forth in this Motion and Memorandum and in the CIS, the United States respectfully requests the Court find that the proposed Final Judgment is in the public interest and enter the Final Judgment without further hearings.
1. The 2004 amendments substituted "shall" for "may" in directing relevant factors for court to consider and amended list of factors to focus on competitive considerations and to address potentially ambiguous judgment terms. Compare 15 U.S.C. § 16(e) (2004), with 15 U.S.C. § 16(e)(1) (2006); see also United States v. SBC Commc'ns, Inc., 489 F. Supp. 2d 1, 11 (D.D.C. 2007) (concluding that the 2004 amendments "effected minimal changes" to Tunney Act review).
2. Cf. BNS, 858 F.2d at 464 (holding that the court's "ultimate authority under the [APPA] is limited to approving or disapproving the consent decree"); United States v. Gillette Co., 406 F. Supp. 713, 716 (D. Mass. 1975) (noting that, in this way, the court is constrained to "look at the overall picture not hypercritically, nor with a microscope, but with an artist's reducing glass"), aff'd sub nom. Maryland v. United States, 460 U.S. 1001 (1983). See generally Microsoft, 56 F.3d at 1461 (discussing whether "the remedies [obtained in the decree are] so inconsonant with the allegations charged as to fall outside of the 'reaches of the public interest'").
3. See United States v. Enova Corp., 107 F. Supp. 2d 10, 17 (D.D.C. 2000) (noting that the "Tunney Act expressly allows the court to make its public interest determination on the basis of the competitive impact statement and response to comments alone"); S. Rep. No. 93-298, 93d Cong., 1st Sess., at 6 (1973) ("Where the public interest can be meaningfully evaluated simply on the basis of briefs and oral arguments, that is the approach that should be utilized."); United States v. Mid-Am. Dairymen, Inc., 1977-1 Trade Cas. (CCH) 61,508, at 71,980 (W.D. Mo. 1977) ("[T]he Court, in making its public interest finding, should . . . carefully consider the explanations of the government in order to determine whether those explanations are reasonable under the circumstances.").